27TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Sunday, October 2nd, 2011
HARVEST FESTIVAL AND FR. JOHN- FRANCIS’ FAREWELL MASS
a sermon preached by the Rector at S. Andrew’s Church, Romford
‘Parting is such sweet sorrow’ said the leaf as it floated to the ground and the grape as it was plucked from the vine. Letting go is never easy: It was Juliet who spoke those words to Romeo as, eventually, she bade her lover goodnight‘til it be tomorrow’. When is it right to part?
At first I was unsure about taking my leave on this particular day when we celebrate the harvest of the earth. Yet, on reflection, I realised how appropriate is the occasion for, above all, we are here to celebrate, to give thanks. To make eucharist. And there is so much for which we can be thankful.
GIVING THANKS FOR HARVEST
Just think what you might be thankful for; what you have received that has been given you that you might enjoy life in all its fullness. It’s easy to focus on what we need and forget what we have – the basic necessities of life that we can easily overlook day by day. So this festival is a reminder that the earth – the soil we take for granted – provides the stuff that makes life possible. Thank you. Thanks for the food we eat and wine we drink; for the fruit and veg. we take from the shelves at Sainsbury’s, or pick up at the Market. Thanks to Mother Earth whose bounty feeds us all. Or, at least, feeds those lucky enough to live where rain and sunshine balance each other.
And thanks for those whose skills make harvest possible – the farmers and scientists, retailers and distributors and that endless list of people who make sure our tables are full. Yes, today is a good day on which to give thanks.
GIVING THANKS FOR THIS PARISH
But today, for me of course, has a more personal note. It’s a day on which I give thanks for the past ten years here. For all those who have come to this place to celebrate life and love, or hand back to God those who have fallen asleep. To give thanks for the beauty of this place we have been able to restore, and the beauty of lives made richer and more complete as they have been opened for God to transform. The harvest that comes when we are seeking to be at one with our Creator; when we seek to live eucharistically, thankfully offering ourselves day in and day out to God. For the harvest of life.
There is a beautiful flowering that takes place when we turn our face to God and reflect that Sun which never sets. A harvest of the fruits of the Spirit; of love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. A harvest that needs cultivating by all of us. Those fruits I have experienced amongst you, and for that I am thankful.
I AM THE TRUE VINE
In our gospel reading, Jesus refers to himself as the ‘True Vine’ and his disciples as the branches. It’s an image I have always found quite powerful: “I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.” Jesus is clearly telling us that we are to be united to him, and he uses that moving phrase: “Abide in me as I abide in you.” And to drive home the importance of abiding in him he uses the word ‘abide’ eleven times in that opening paragraph. So let’s recall what this ‘abiding’ means.
Clearly, Jesus intends something more than that nodding acquaintance at a bus stop! The word is rooted in the idea of dwelling with someone – living in their abode. So Jesus is saying that we need to dwell with him. And it’s not just us, individually, that are called to do that – he is speaking to his disciples. To all who want to follow him he says – learn to live together, with me. That’s not a bad thought to hold as you prepare for our Interregnum. Live together in love. In Christ. Abide in his love.
And, if you do only have a ‘bus-stop’ sort of relationship with him, well, maybe now’s the time to consider his invitation to you – I want to abide with you so that your life might become more fruitful. One week ago, reflecting on this ‘abiding in Christ’ the Holy Father said: “Such is the Church, this communion of life with him and for the sake of one another, a communion that is rooted in baptism and is deepened and given more and more vitality in the Eucharist. “I am the true vine” actually means: “I am you and you are I” – an unprecedented identification of the Lord with us, his Church.”
Don’t you think that’s quite beautiful?
I have a feeling that St. Paul was reflecting on this call to abide in Christ when he wrote so powerfully: “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Phil.3:8).
Just think how we get to know someone. That passing nod at the bus stop might lead to deciding to have a drink to ‘get to know each other better’ and that might develop into a relationship and a decision to live together. Maybe it’s only when you live with someone – abide with them – that you really get to know who they are. ‘Abide with me that we might know each other’. That’s Jesus’ invitation to us this morning. And it’s what produces plentiful fruit. If the farmer only visits his fields occasionally, has a ‘nodding acquaintance’ with them (if you like) he’ll never get to know his land and discover how it can be more fruitful.
So as I take my leave of you, having abided here for the longest period in my life since I was a teenager; having been welcomed and embraced by you, shared your confidences, your joys and your pains and all the rest that happens in life, it is this simple message of ‘abiding in Christ’ that I want to leave you with. Listen to what Jesus is saying to you, right now: “As the Father has loved me, so I have loved you; abide in my love.”
Can you say, ‘Yes’ to that? He loves you: can you respond to his love? To his invitation to dwell in his love? It’s not the Rector, or Suzanne or the churchwardens that hold this community together and help it flourish. It’s our saying ‘yes’ to abiding in Christ and being his disciples.
To move forward with confidence because we are always seeking Him who invites us into a deeper and deeper relationship with him, and with each other. To abide with Christ and each other even, as the Franciscan Principles state, in ‘days of darkness and difficulty’. St. Francis abided in Christ and found his nourishment in the Eucharist until his life perfectly mirrored his Lord’s. And that’s Christ’s invitation to each of us: “I am you and you are I”: an invitation that St. Paul heard and which led him to be able to write those amazing words: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.’
But let me leave you with the words of Jesus which he addresses to all who would be his disciples:
‘You are my friends if you do what I command you.
I do not call you servants any longer,
because the servant does not know
what the master is doing;
but I have called you friends,
because I have made known to you
everything that I have heard from my Father.
You did not choose me but I chose you.
And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last,
so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.
I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.’
Lent 3 2011
Lent 2 2011
Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own;
but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind
and straining forward to what lies ahead,
I press on towards the goal for the prize
of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.